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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Here are responses to some of the questions that I most often receive from viewers of my website. If you don't see your question answered here, then feel free to suggest a topic for this page, and I will see what I can do.

1) When I plant a new rose, what should I do to care for it in its first year?

2) Is there a difference between own-root roses and grafted roses?

3) I have a rose that blooms only during a few weeks in early summer. I think it is an Old Garden Rose. When and how should I be pruning this rose to get the best results?

4) I have inherited many roses with the new home we just bought, and I need to move some of them to better suit my garden plans. How and when should I do this?

5) I have a rose that blooms at the beginning of summer, and then no more from June onwards...is there anything I can do to make it keep blooming all summer?

6) How do I propagate my rose from cuttings? Is there a good way to do this, and when should it be done?

7) Is it possible to graft roses at home? How?

8) What does it mean when a patented rose I buy says "asexual propagtion prohibited"?

9) How do you make new roses from seeds? Is it possible to grow new varieties from seeds?

10) I prefer to grow all of my plants organically. Is it possible to grow roses this way as well?

11) What are Heirloom, or Old Garden Roses?

12) I cannot keep the Hybrid Teas and Floribundas alive through my harsh winters. Are there any roses that will survive in zone 4 or 5 and do better than these bedding varieties?

13) What are the black marks that appear on my rose leaves? The leaves yellow after a while, and then fall off! What is happening?

14) There is white powdery mold appearing on my rose leaves....what is this? What should I do about it?

15) If you had to choose only 20 roses to grow, 10 from the repeat blooming varieties, and 10 from the non-repeating ones, which ones would they be?

Q: When I plant a new rose, what should I do to care for it in its first year?

A: The single most important thing to do is be sure to water aften, and water DEEPLY. That means watering about once a week, and for several minutes....enough to thoroughly saturate the soil to a depth of 2 feet or more. Depending on weather conditions, this may need to be done every day in extreme heat, or once a week in cool, overcast conditions. One of the most important things: DO NOT FEED YOUR ROSES WITH FERTILIZERS IN THE FIRST YEAR! If you planted your roses correctly, (ie: add lots of organic matter to soil, preferably well composted manure.) then you do not need to add fertilizers during that first season. The reason? Because if you feed heavily, it tends to discourage root formation. The rose will behave as though it doesn't have too look far for food. This will result in a small, weak root system. Secondly, the developing roots will not be able to use a lot of "easily available" food, and it can in fact damage the roots. You can easily kill a newly planted rose by feeding it soluble fertilizers in the first season! If you really feel the need to feed them, I suggest mild feedings (1/2 strength) with Fish Emulsion once or twice in June or July. They really won't need it, but as I say.....if you MUST.......
One thing that your new roses may benefit from is a couple of applications of vitamin B solution. I am talking about Superthrive Vitamins. (A brand name) It is applied at the rate of ONE DROP PER GALLON, watered in to the soil. Why use this product? In my personal experience, it has the ability to encourage strong root growth. In part this is because it contains a plant hormone called NAA (napthalene acetic acid) that is used in rooting hormone formulas. (The kind you buy to help root cuttings.) It is not a fertilizer, but a growth stimulator. DO NOT make it stronger than recommended! Making it stronger doesn't make it work better!

Q: Is there a difference between own-root roses and grafted roses?

A: Well, yes. They both have advantages and disadvantages, but the difference for most people is a subtle one.
Grafted roses are easier for the nurseryman to produce, and are faster to reach a saleable size. For the person who purchases it, a grafted rose is going to make a bigger plant, faster! It is often a more vigorous plant and often produces better, bigger blooms than a rose growing on its own roots. However, a grafted plant is considered to be a "temporary" rose. By that I mean this: a grafted rose will eventually grow thick, dense tissue at the graft location that becomes difficult to transmit water through, and so the plant "wears out" and often gives up, leaving only the "wild" rootstock variety. (We have all seen a rootstock variety take over after the top grafted part has died out.) This is a major disadvantage, in my opinion, and so I usually prefer my roses growing on their own roots.
"Own-root" roses, on the other hand, often have an indefinite lifespan. This is because even if you have a very hard freeze, and the plants dies down to the roots, it will generally come up again from the roots...not reverting to "wild" understock. Own-root roses will take a year longer to become as big as a grafted plant will, but by the end of two or three seasons, both types would end up about the same size. Personally, I believe that in the long run, you get a better, healthier plant if grown on its own roots, and you don't have to worry about the rose reverting to the rootstock variety.

Q: I have a rose that blooms only during a few weeks in early summer. I think it is an Old Garden Rose. When and how should I be pruning this rose to get the best results?

A: A rose that blooms only once a year has special pruning requirements. This type of rose produces its flowers from the wood it produced in the previous year. If you prune this type of rose in late winter, or early spring, then in effect, you will be removing all of the blooms! (I have heard stories from many people who prune their once-bloomers like Hybrid Teas in early spring. They complain that their roses do not bloom! This is because of badly timed pruning....not because the rose is a poor plant!) The time to prune once-blooming roses is in the four to six weeks following the finish of its blooming. This allows you to trim and shape the shrub, while still providing time for it to make plenty of new growth for the next years blooming.

Q: I have inherited many roses with the new home we just bought, and I need to move some of them to better suit my garden plans. How and when should I do this?

A: The transplanting of established roses is a tricky manoeuvre at best. There are a few rules about moving an established rose that MUST be observed if you actually expect the plant to survive. First; the transplanting must be done when the shrub is DORMANT. that means moving the bush in late fall after the foliage is mostly (or completely) fallen or in very early spring before the plant has begun leafing out. If you do it in early spring, we are talking about a date as soon as the soil is easily worked, and before you expect any weather about 65F. Be prepared: have the hole ready where the rose is to be moved to, and whatever you do, DON'T mix granular chemical fertilizers into the hole! The plant will be in shock and can't use fertilizers, and they will more likely cause damage.

Dig as much of the root ball as you can without damaging too many of the fine feeder roots. Remove (prune off) at least 1/3 of the top growth of the shrub....preferably 1/2 of it. (The amount to remove depends on the type of rose that is being moved; Old Garden Roses respond well to having 1/3 to 1/2 of their top growth removed, while modern Hybrid Teas can be cut down to mere stumps with 3 or 4 bud eyes.

Once the rose is placed in its new location and the soil firmed in, water it. Water it any time that there is no rain or snow melt for more than a few days. (for Spring transplanting) It would not be a bad idea to mound soil around the bottom 1 or 1.5 feet of the canes, as this helps prevent dessication of the wood.

Finally; cross your fingers. A rose that has been in one location for more than 3 or 4 years is not going to take well to being moved, and even with the best of efforts, some losses will occur. Unless it's absolutely necessary, avoid moving mature bushes. Whatever you do, don't move a mature bush during the growing season, as survival is slim under such conditions. If you have the time and desire to do so, propagate the rose from cuttings before trying to move it, so that you can at least start over with a young bush if the transplant fails. See the article about propagating roses from cuttings.

For a detailed account of one person's technique for transplanting an established rose see Hilde Mulbury's article here.

Q: I have a rose that blooms at the beginning of summer, and then no more from June onwards...is there anything I can do to make it keep blooming all summer?

A: The likelihood is that this is an Old Garden Rose that is genetically "programmed" to bloom but once a year, as does a Lilac, for example. The Gallicas, Albas, Damasks, and a few others are examples of this type. They were bred before the introduction of the repeat blooming Chinese roses, and so, like many species roses, bloom once a year over a few weeks period. Nothing can be done to induce more blooms after they finish for the year.

Q: How do I propagate my rose from cuttings? Is there a good way to do this, and when should it be done?

A: Roses are fairly easy to propagate from cuttings. This is a simple thing for a gardener with minimal experience and skill to do. Rather than give detailed instructions here, I suggest you follow this link to Mel Hulse's article in the Rose Science section. Personally, I have always preferred using softwood cuttings taken immediately after blooming. There are, however, as many opinions on the best way to do this as there are folks who practise it! I suggest that Mel's article is a good starting place.

Q: Is it possible to graft roses at home? How?

A: Yes, grafting roses is not a difficult task either, with a little practise. I know many people who have learned to do it in their own gardens at home. I do it often to evaluate some of my own hybrids. It is not practical to include detailed instructions here, so I offer this link to Dr. Malcolm Manners page about grafting. If you have any questiosn about the technique, you can email either of us for answers. (There is a second page with more grafting tips that you should likely view as well.)

Q: What does it mean when a patented rose I buy says "asexual propagtion prohibited"?

A: A patented rose is protected by law from copying. Nurseries must enter into a contract with the creator of this variety to keep a log of production of this variety, and pay the royalties accordingly. Its the same as copyright that protects recording artists right to collect royalties from sales of their work. When we purchase a patented rose, we are not supposed to propagate this plant. Please consider the fact that the roses we value have cost the breeder/introducer a great deal to introduce, and they are very much deserving of their royalties. (Did you know that major breeders have to produce hundred of thousands of seedlings each year just to be able to introduce 2 or 3 new varieties? That is an expensive process!) Please do not indisciminately propagate patented roses!

Q: How do you make new roses from seeds? Is it possible to grow new varieties from seeds?

A: Absolutely! However, it is a bit more trouble than starting most other kinds of seeds. Rose seeds have a very deep dormancy period that must be broken by a process called stratification. What this maens is: The seeds must be taken from the ripe hips in early winter (before a hard freeze) and washed. They are then placed in containers of damp sphagnum moss, or perlite/vermiculite, and put in the refidgerator for most of the winter. They are then removed in March, and sown in sterile soil and placed where they will receive dappled light, and also be exposed to fluctuating temperatures of spring.

For a more detailed article about rose seed germination, go to this article by Henry Kuska.

Q: I prefer to grow all of my plants organically. Is it possible to grow roses this way as well?

A: Absolutely! Before commercial fertilizers were commonly available, people were sucessfully growing healthy, vibrant roses using what we eould now call organic methods. (You don't think Empress Josephine ran out to buy the economy size of Miracle Gro for Malmaison twice a season, do you?!)

My personal view of rose gardening is to focus on issues of soil health, with sustainability being of the utmost importance. (Not everyone will agree with me, and thats okay too.....I am just offering you my opinion....take it as you will) I prefer the age old rosarians choice of soil amendment: aged manure. This is the number one soil supplement in my garden. I fork in a 3 to 5 inch layer of manure every spring, and will occasionally add more later on after the first blooming has ended. As summer progresses, I will also use some fish emulsion occasionally as a bonus. I like fish emulsion fertilizers because they act in the soil to decompose and slowly release the nutrients to the plants. This sort of organic feeding can actually contribute to the long-term health of a soil by releasing compounds that feed the naturally occurring soil organisms. Chemical fertilizers do quite the opposite: they feed the plant with a sudden burst of harsh chemicals which can also kill the natural soil flora. This sort of feeding can, over a period of time, render a garden quite toxic and lifeless. (It can be overcome with generous annual additions of compost or other organic matter, but its better to aim for total soil health from the beginning.)

There will occasionally be times when you may need to deal with specific nutrient deficiencies, and this may mean resorting to store-bought mineral supplements to correct. Iron deficiency, for example, is a fairly common problem, and is best dealt with by adding a chelated Iron product to your soil. (Iron chlorosis is sometimes the result of an excess acidity problem in some soils, so you may want to determine the soil pH before adding anything corrective.)

Growing organically also means avoiding petrochemical sprays to control insects and diseases. Personally, I do not use either of these materials in my garden, as they are very disruptive to the biology of the garden. (Most sprays, fungicides included, kill all insects in the garden, including bees and ladybugs.) Ladybugs in particular are very helpful, as they eat enormous quantities of aphids and other unwanted pests. I find that if I leave a population of aphids long enough, the ladybugs will locate them and decimate them in a couple of days! That is what they are there to do! There are also natural predators of Spider Mites that will clean up your roses if you keep an insect friendly environment.

As for diseases, I have decided that I am willing to live with a bit of Blackspot and Mildew. There are some things that you can do to prevent these fungal diseases from becoming unmanageable. In the wet days of spring when Blackspot starts, the best thing you can do to curb an outbreak is remove ALL the diseased foliage you can see, and remove it from the garden completely. (DO NOT toss diseased leaves on the compost pile....the disease spores can survive in there for a long time!) By doing so, you limit the amount of disease spores that can remain to cause further infection. Once summer comes, and your roses are not staying wet for long periods of time, the incidence of disease dimishes dramatically anyway. (Did you know that rose foliage must remain wet for at least 12 hours straight for Blackspot spores to germinate and infect a leaf surface?)

Mildew is a less common problem, and is often limited to certain varieties that are susceptible to the fungus. It is rarely as damaging as Blackspot, but is unsightly just the same. For a fairly sucessful organic control, you may want to try what I do: spray the plants once a day with a forceful spray of water. This does 2 things: Mildew cannot survive when exposed to large amounts of liquid water, and so it is often killed outright by this treatment. Secondly, the spraying washes off the spores that can reinfect other leaves. I have used this technique with often very good results, particularly in a greenhouse, where mildew can be a big problem.

Q: What are Heirloom, or Old Garden Roses?

A: Although the class designations as they exist today are somewhat unclear, we say that Old Garden Roses are those varieties whose classes were in existance before 1867. (This date is chosen as the turning point in rose breeding, with the introduction of the first Hybrid Tea, 'La France'. The shift in rose breeding to these types of bedding roses is considered to be a radical departure from all previous class characteristics.) While there have been recent introductions into some of these Old Garden Rose classes, they are clearly not true Antiques, but new additions to an old class. The age of the variety plays a part in defining it as an Old Garden Rose. (aka OGR)

The Old Garden Roses include the Gallicas, Damasks, Centifolias, Teas, Noisettes, Albas, Moss Roses, and others. Many of these were bred in the late 1700's and the 1800's, with the majority being created in the early to mid 1800's. The Dutch are considered to be the early pioneers in creating new roses from seed, and seeing what success they were having, the French also took up the cause, to great effect. It is the French roses that make up a majority of the surviving Antique roses we have in commerce. Most of them have been "lost" for many years during the time when Hybrid Teas and Floribundas became overwhelmingly popular. They have survived for the first 60 odd years of this century in places like the Gold Rush towns of California, waiting to be rediscovered by caring individuals like Graham Thomas, who have reintroduced them into commerce.

Q: I cannot keep the Hybrid Teas and Floribundas alive through my harsh winters. Are there any roses that will survive in zone 4 or 5 and do better than these bedding varieties?

A:Yes, many of the Shrub Roses are much better in cold climates than Hybrid Teas. While they are often very different from the Hybrid Tea in habit, they are often very rewarding shrubs, with great "landscape potential". By this I mean that they often perform well in the same manner as other garden shrubs, becoming an integral part of the landscape scheme in a way that Hybrid Teas cannot.

Some excellent shrubs for the colder climate are the Rugosas, which are bred from the Japanese/Korean species, R. rugosa. It is a carefree shrub that blooms all season, will tolerate extreme cold (usually to zone 4 and some individuals to zone 3) and will withstand some drought, and even salt exposure! I recommend Rugosas to people who think their climate is too cold for roses, and they are usually very pleasantly surprised. Some excellent choices are 'Hansa', 'Blanc Double de Coubert', Rosa rugosa (species form), 'Topaz Jewel', 'Agnes', and 'Basye's Purple'.

Many of the Old Garden Roses are suitable for cold climates as well. Gallicas are good to at least zone 4, as are many Damasks and Centifolias. Some varieties of the new English Roses have been found to be acceptably hardy to zones 5a and 5b, and maybe colder areas in protected spots. They are worth experimenting with to see if they are suitable for your garden.

Q: What are the black marks that appear on my rose leaves? The leaves yellow after a while, and then fall off! What is happening?

A: Most likely, this is the typical description of a fungal disease called Blackspot. It infects the leaves of susceptible varieties of roses during periods of extended wet weather. Unfortunately, many of the roses we grow are susceptible to Blackspot to some degree, but as often as not, you may never see this disease in your roses. Cultural conditions play a major role in determining whether or not you will experience fungus diseases in your garden. Air circulation is important to keep disease spores from settling on the leaves. Proper nutrition is important also. Prolonged periods of wet weather are a major contributor to disease, which unfortunatley, we can't do much about. In the springtime, many people opt to spray their roses with preventative chemicals which will control outbreaks of Blackspot. I prefer to use sanitation methods to keep disease at bay as much as possible, rather than turning to chemicals which have unhealthy impacts on garden fauna. (See my comments about Organic gardening methods above)

Q: There is white powdery mold appearing on my rose leaves....what is this? What should I do about it?

A: This is another fungal disease that some roses can get, called Mildew. (Not the same mildew that grows in the bathroom!) It is not common on modern roses, but some of the Old Garden Roses are susceptible. Again, sanitation methods assist in keeping mildew out of your roses, as does good air circulation. It is not a major leaf disease in the same way that Blackspot is, but is more simply unsightly. (see comments above about Organic gardening techniques)

Q: If you had to choose only 20 roses to grow, 10 from the repeat blooming varieties, and 10 from the non-repeating ones, which ones would they be?

A: Once Blooming varieties:
1)Cardinal de Richelieu, Gallica-china hybrid. Very dark grape purple, scented. 4-5 feet tall.
2)Felicite Parmentier, Alba. Pale pink, with an very fine, sweet fragrance. To 4 or 5 feet tall.
3)La Belle Sultane, Gallica. Large single blooms of the richest purple, scented. To 6 feet tall.
4)Belle Isis, Gallica. Clusters of blush pink on a 3 to 4 foot shrub. Very good Myrrh scent. (soapy-spicy) This is a very nice tidy rose.
5)Alain Blanchard, Centifolia. Deep red splashed and spotted with purple. 4 feet tall, nice scent. This is a very striking rose!
6)Chapeau de Napoleon, Centifolia. Medium pink, parsley-like sepals, excellent scent. To 5 feet.
7)Charles de Mills, Gallica. Very double deep crimson blooms of great beauty. 4 to 5 feet tall. This is considered to be one of the finest of all Gallicas, and is one of my very favorites.
8)Duchesse de Montebello, Gallica hybrid. Pale pink to white cupped blooms, good fragrance. To 3.5 feet tall. Very beautiful.
9)Tuscany Superb, a Gallica. One of the darkest Gallicas. It blooms with almost black shimmering highlights when grown in full sun. To 4 or 5 feet tall. Mild scent. This is an excellent shrub.
10)Madame Hardy, Damask. COnsidered to be one of the finest white roses ever bred. Very double blooms with honey-damask fragrance. Exceptionally beautiful. To 7 feet.

Repeat Blooming Varieties:
1)Gloire de Dijon, a Noisette. A climber to 15 feet. Very double glowing peach-buff blooms with a very refined fragrance. If I could have but one rose, this would be it.
2)Jacques Cartier, a Portland. Soft pale pink blooms with a good scent. To 4 feet tall, with good rebloom.
3)Lady Hillingdon, a Tea. I have the shrub form which is 4 feet tall. Beautiful deep yolk-orange blooms, possessing one of the finest rose scents of all. A beautiful shrub that fits into smaller gardens.
4)Reve D'Or, a Noisette. This is a large climber, to 12 feet. Golden yellow blooms all summer long.
5)Out of Yesteryear, a Hybrid Bracteata. This is one of the most wonderful modern shrub roses I have seen in many years. Cream and amber yellow blooms in OGR style with wonderful fragrance and disease resistance. To 4 or 5 feet tall.
6)Souvenir de la Malmaison, a Bourbon. One of the most beautiful of all Old roses. Very double blush pink, fading to near white. Intoxicating scent. To 4 or 5 feet tall. Takes pruning well.
7)Comte de Chambord, a Portland. Medium pink double blooms with a fine scent. Compact shrub of about 4 or 5 feet. Very graceful growth habit.
8)Rose de Rescht, a Portland. Very tidy shrub, to about 4 feet tall. Excellent rebloom. 2.5 inch blooms have a very fine Damask scent. Generally disease free.
9)Eugene de Beauharnais, a China-Bourbon hybrid. What a beautiful rose! Deep crimson and purple blooms are very double, and can have blackish highlights in strong sun. The very intense fragrance is one of my favorites. Disease free, and stays under 3 feet tall. Blooms constantly.
10)Buff Beauty, a Hybrid Musk. 5 feet tall and wide. A graceful shrub, blooms constantly with 3" double apricot blooms. Soft rich scent, and very disease free.

 


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